REBNY gala not the “funeral” of last year

The Real Estate Board of New York’s 114th Annual Banquet was the usual whirl of floor-length dresses, schmoozing and cameos by politicians like Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor David Paterson (see slide show above of The Real Deal’s Lauren Elkies interviewing people at the REBNY event, and click here for a Webcast from the night). But for the first time, a woman presided over the event — new REBNY Chairman Mary Ann Tighe, CEO of the tri-state region of CB Richard Ellis, swathed in a sparkling blue gown.

Her presence at the microphone, however, didn’t do much to quiet the boisterous crowd, which was just as loud as usual despite the fact that there were
slightly fewer attendees this year than last — 2,000 versus 2,300 last
year — according to REBNY President Steven Spinola.

The crowd’s smaller size didn’t do much to dampen the markedly higher spirits that set this year’s event apart from last year’s.

“Last year, this was like a funeral,” said Jeffrey Levine, principal of Douglaston Development, who attended the banquet with his son Benjamin. “We were licking our wounds from the collapse of Lehman. There’s no question everyone tonight is in a much better frame of mind.”

Other notable attendees at the New York Hilton event included real estate newlyweds Ivanka Trump and New York Observer owner Jared Kushner, Tishman and Speyer’s Rob Speyer, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council member Jessica Lappin.

The City Council’s new land use committee chairman, Queens Council member Leroy Comrie was there, as well as his predecessor, former Queens Council member Melinda Katz, now a shareholder at real estate powerhouse firm Greenberg Traurig.

Spinola said he was proud that REBNY hadn’t increased the ticket price — $950 per person.

Honorees included veteran land-use attorney Sandy Lindenbaum, who received the Harry B. Helmsley Distinguished New Yorker Award, and Vornado Realty Trust’s David Greenbaum, who was presented with the Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Leadership in Real Estate Award. Robert Knakal, co-founder and chairman of Massey Knakal, received the Louis Smadbeck Broker Recognition Award, Ralph DiRuggiero of the Paramount Group was given the George M. Brooker Management Executive of the Year Award, Frederick Peters, the president of Warburg Realty Partnership, received the Kenneth R. Gerrety Humanitarian Award, while Swig Equities’ Todd Korren received the Young Real Estate Man of the Year Award.

Echoing the positive outlook of many attendees, Peters said he expects residential prices to increase 5 to 8 percent over the next year in some Manhattan neighborhoods — those with tighter inventory.

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He added: “Most of the inventory overload will be absorbed by the end of this calendar year.”

Kelly Kennedy Mack, the president of Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, said the current three-year supply of units on the market is less than she expected.

“If you had asked me six months or a year ago, I would have said a six-year supply,” she said.

At some projects, especially those which have passed the 50 percent sold mark, she said she has even noticed “a renewed sense of urgency.”

Howard Rubenstein, a legend in the public relations field, said he also found 2009 to be a challenging year and spent much of his time soothing his clients’ worries.

“I calm them down,” he said, adding that in a down economy, he recommends maintaining some visibility but avoiding appearing “boastful” or throwing extravagant parties.

But he, too, was optimistic about 2010.

“There will be a slow start, but a roaring, good ending,” he said.
With additional reporting provided by Adam Pincus.